Music and images is the very stuff of Film Music on the Web so it was
natural that these interesting DVDs should come under our purview. How to marry
classical music with enhancing, sympathetic visuals, has always interested filmmakers.
Just filming an orchestra in performance has limited visual appeal so producers
may be forgiven, even applauded, if they are inclined to seek alternatives.
Success many would say a limited success was achieved in Disney's Fantasia.
There have also been a number of attempts to shape documentaries to music
notably travelogues which would seem to be naturally suitable and sympathetic
because so many pieces of music are evocations of specific places or countries
e.g. Tchaikowsky's Italian Caprice or Borodin's In the Steppes of
In the early days of CinemaScope a short travelogue on Italy went out with
the feature Three Coins in the Fountain (itself with a memorable score
by Victor Young as well as the title song made famous by Frank Sinatra). Remember,
this was when the widescreen system and its accompanying stereophonic sound
were in their infancy, so the travelogue was considered to be just as prestigious
as the main feature it supported. The travelogue was, suitably, about the tourist
attractions of Italy. The 20th Century Fox studio orchestra recorded
the symphonic material conducted by the studio's main composer and Music Director,
Alfred Newman. Now Newman knew instinctively how music could not only serve
on-screen atmosphere, emotions and action but conversely how music's impact
could be maximised by sympathetic on-screen images. He understood that the images
had to be arranged so that their pace and dynamics and emotional atmosphere
paralleled and supported the music. [Often canny feature film directors will
instruct their editors to work to the tempo of the film's score e.g. see my
review this month of the 20th anniversary special DVD of Spielberg's
E.T. on Film Music on the Web]
But to turn to the review of these new Naxos musical journeys. First the good
news, what a splendid idea! Now the bad, how are very disappointing they both
are. The DVD boxes wax eloquently that these journeys are unforgettable. Wrong!
Both journeys are too specifically tied to relatively small areas of both France
and Italy. In fact I can imagine the Tourist Boards of both countries gnashing
their teeth in despair, for these images of not particularly attractive, off-the-beaten-track
locales are more likely to provoke yawns. In the French Festival there are endless
boring views of badly colour photographed coastlines, insipid landscapes and
uninspired buildings. In the Italian film there is again too much emphasis on
the relatively obscure Montepulciano and Contucci vineyard districts, poorly
filmed, unimaginative and with narrow-choice views of Florence (no Cathedral
interiors, no view of Santa Croce for instance); and why a tedious journey up
a funicular railway (to Luigi Denza's Funiculi, funiculà) just
to see a row of shipyard cranes? surely Genoa deserves better? Not that Venice
fares much better either - just views of lesser narrow canals in winter snows
(nicely atmospheric, granted and - an unusual viewpoint of Venice) but there
is only a glimpse of a less celebrated part of the Grand Canal (no Rialto Bridge).
We do not see St Mark's Cathedral and Square and not even a sight of Santa Maria
della Salute that regales the front of the DVD box.
Worse, for the most part, the choice of the music is not sympathetic to the
visuals either in pace or mood. For instance, we hear Ravel's Pavane pour
une infante défunte with pictures of the infamous island prison off
Marseilles, the Château d'If in which 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and
'The Man in the Iron Mask' were incarcerated - a strange choice indeed. Then
we hear Godard's lovely Berceuse accompanying pleasure boats sailing
in and out of the nondescript little fishing village and resort that is Port
Camargue. Saint-Saëns exciting Danse Macabre is set against almost
static photography of the fortress at Aigues-Mortes ("Stagnant Water"),
appropriately named in this context.
The choices for the Italian journey are disappointing, there are far too many
tarantellas (spelt tarantelle, the French way for goodness sake!) and all the
works save by Denza are by non-Italians!! Have the producers not heard of composers
like Martucci and Respighi (the Italians wrote more than just operas; and, in
any case, why not choose preludes or intermezzi?). Why could the producers not
have invested a little more time and money and taken their cameras down to Rome
and Naples. They could have used, for example, Respighi's Pines of the Janiculum
(from his Pines of Rome) to great effect, with pictures of Janiculum
Hill in the moonlight with St Peter's in the background.
The performances of the music are erratic and often not very inspiring.
Lest the reader think these DVDs are a total disaster, I would add that there
are one or two tracks that nearly make the grade. On the French Festival, beautiful
night shots at Port Camargue enhance Debussy's Claire de lune and nicely
edited film of the sea around St Raphael on the Gulf of Fréjus match
quite well Debussy's La terrasse des audiences au clair de lune.
On the Italian Festival Mendelssohn's Venetian Gondolier's Song fits the Venetian
waterways shots reasonably well and some of the more humorous stretches of Godard's
Scènes Italiennes fit very nicely pictures of a commedia dell'arte
statue atop a campanile. But
A wonderful concept deserving of far better treatment than found in these dreary